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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #435
Shortening
David Gunn

Saturday, October, 7 a.m. The alarm clock awoke Jerome not by ringing an obnoxiously loud bell but by stealthily creeping to the edge of the nightstand, jumping off, and landing hard on the plate glass floor. Jerome awoke instantly to the sound of breaking glass, and not for the first time, either. The bedroom floor was honeycombed with cracks from scores of similar alarm clock episodes. Jerome was not one to casually anthropomorphize ordinarily inanimate objects, but this particular clock also had a tendency to mumble pithy pronouncements in Portuguese. "Acorde acima e cheire as lascas do vidro!" it muttered on more than one occasion. Or "Eu posso manter o tempo mas eu não posso mantê-lo para mais do que um momento." The syntax was strained, to be sure, but just try getting, say, a toaster to say "Wake up and smell the glass shards!" or "I can keep time but I can't keep it for more than a moment." It isn't easy.

Jerome plucked the clock from the floor and placed it back on his one nightstand. He set it close to the edge, just to see if he could coax another plunge out of it. But the piece of time was for the moment determinedly inert. Then Jerome swung out of bed, stood up, and glanced down. A shiver ran through him as he noted that his pajama bottoms completely covered his feet. The sleeves, too, hung well past his fingertips. A week ago, he thought that his nightwear had somehow mysteriously stretched in the wash. But each succeeding daybreak had brought with it a slightly more capacious garment, and Jerome was forced to accept the bitter reality that, with the advent of the autumnal equinox, not only were the days getting shorter, but so was he.

In one week, he had decreased nearly two inches in height. That was an even faster rate of elevation reduction than was depicted in the 1957 documentary, "The Incredible Shrinking Man." It implied that, by Walpurgis Night, his bunion-to-cowlick measurement might have to be expressed by a negative number. He had seen a doctor, though Warbler Hadley Blackmoor's credentials as professor emesis of Calamitology at the University of Hummock-on-Smythe in southwesternmost Lincolnshire would seem better suited to exacerbating Jerome's increasingly decreasing condition. Indeed, the professor heartily approved of Jerome's unbidden shrinkage, calling it "a potential evolutionary solution to global overcrowding."

This was all quite bad enough, but ancillary elements of his life had also begun to truncate. Normally robust of lungs, Jerome now occasionally experienced shortness of breath. The front-to-back span of his Hudson Wingback sport coupe had also been depleted by a good pothole's length. But most distressing of all was his music. Although his friends and colleagues knew him as a professional landlubber, Jerome was clandestinely a composer. Employing the puzzling pseudonym "End-bulb of Krause," he wrote orchestral works, massive in scale. Or at least they used to be. Since September the twenty-third, nearly a quarter of his opuses had also shrunk--some by as much as an entire recapitulation.

Hiking up his pants legs, Jerome tottered out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. His appetite sure hadn't diminished proportionally to his height--he could still pack away an entire carton of savory sweetbread Pop Tarts for breakfast. Neither was he losing weight. The Toledo scale in the parlor pegged him at an even 70 kilos, just as it had each morning for the last five years. Maybe he wasn't getting shorter so much as he was becoming ... more compact?

Jerome returned to the bedroom to change into his dalmatic with the self-adjusting hemline. The alarm clock was muttering again, but had switched to English. "Time is short and so are you," it said, maintaining a Portuguese accent. Ignoring the cheeky remark, Jerome repaired to his studio in the adjoining room. Both the keys on the Wurlitzer and the strings on his bouzouki were spaced just a hair farther apart than they had been last night. He glanced at the score to "Panne d'Ammonium," his in-progress colossal symphony for chemicals, and noticed with annoyance that it was shy half a dozen valences since he'd last worked on it. What was going on?

Given Warbler Hadley Blackmoor's pleasure in the misfortunes of other people--all for the sake of important clinical research, of course--it should come as no surprise that it was his mischievous hand that had shortened the stature of Jerome. Even he didn't know how it had happened, and the Navajo shaman called Pantaloom that he'd employed remained mum on the subject, except to express irresolute confidence that the process would reverse itself come the winter solstice.

Well, this is but the 435th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar. The winter solstice won't arrive for another eleven installments. We hope, of course, that Jerome won't vanish before then, for we would lose an important if infrequent component of this radio program - one whose successor could only be, at least alphabetically, Kalvos.